In , Schmitt published the first version of his most famous work, The Concept of the Political, defending the view that all true politics is based on the distinction between friend and enemy. During the political and constitutional crisis of the later Weimar Republic Schmitt published Legality and Legitimacy, a clear-sighted analysis of the breakdown of parliamentary government in Germany, as well as The Guardian of the Constitution, which argued that the president as the head of the executive, and not a constitutional court, ought to be recognized as the guardian of the constitution. Though Schmitt had not been a supporter of National Socialism before Hitler came to power, he sided with the Nazis after But Schmitt was ousted from his position of power within legal academia in , after infighting with academic competitors who viewed Schmitt as a turncoat who had converted to Nazism only to advance his career.

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Despite the deep normative flaws in his thinking, Schmitt was often a prescient analyst of political and legal trends, possessed with an uncanny ability to identify dilemmas that would soon gain widespread attention. This is no less true of The Partisan than of his more famous works.

Let me try to explain why. Under the Nazis, Schmitt had envisioned the possibility of a German-dominated European alternative to the purportedly anti-political illusions of Anglo-American liberal- ism and Soviet communism. Scheuerman overtones. In the face of the parceling up of the globe by the Americans and Soviets, his landmark Nomos of the Earth is ultimately a politically defensive and even nostalgic work, more concerned with underscoring the virtues of the now bygone traditional European state system than with outlining a constructive alternative to the self-destructive political universalisms e.

The disastrous result, Schmitt posits, is the postwar division of the globe into the hands of two imperialistic political giants who aim at nothing less than remaking the world over in their own images. Only this context allows us to make sense of the surprising enthusiasm with which Schmitt at first glance appears to have greeted the guerrilla movements of the s. Here at last, Schmitt seems to have speculated, we find actors who not only pose a fundamental challenge to the troubling Soviet and U.

Schmitt goes so far as to suggest that the rise of Maoist China might open the door to a more sensible organization of international politics, in lieu of the present e. First, the partisan can be defined as possessing four main attributes. Partisans are irregular fighters since they do not make up a regular modern, bureaucratic- ally organized, centrally coordinated military force and consequently lack many Constellations Volume 13, No 1, They neither wear uniforms nor openly carry their weapons.

This familiar fact points to a more profound difference, however. Their mode of warfare is fundamentally irregular as well, and they neglect the traditional laws of war. Third, partisan warfare privileges intense mobility in the sense of placing a premium on agility, speed, and the capa- city for surprise attack or retreat. Yet it is also easy to see why Schmitt believed that the historical experience of partisan or guerrilla warfare corroborated his theoretical expectations.

They only take on real sig- nificance in the Napoleonic Wars, however, when guerrilla forces posed a deadly challenge to French armies in Spain, Tyrol, and Russia. Scheuerman were bogged down in skirmishes with untrained Spanish country yokels, who waged a brutal irregular war that substantially raised the costs of the French occu- pation. They are paradigmatic for another reason as well: their telluric character stands in stark contrast to the universalizing impulses of the Napoleonic project, which Schmitt interprets as having inherited core features of the Enlightenment legacy of the French Revolution.

In his view, the fundamental flaw plaguing recent left-wing guerrilla movements is that they risk abandoning the telluric attributes of their historical predecessors. Like its liberal Enlightenment cousin, Marxism ultimately leaves no room for this approach. Lenin is thus a more authentic Marxist than Mao, Schmitt suggests, but his inconsistencies as a Marxist simultaneously made Mao better able to appreci- ate the political and military opportunities of partisan warfare 40— Second, modern technology works to counteract an authentically telluric brand of partisan warfare.

Mobility in contemporary military affairs rests on advanced technology which clashes badly with the deeply rooted localism of the classical partisan fighter, the original backwoods Spanish guerrillero: even the autochthonous partisan of agrarian origin is drawn into the force-field of irresistible technical-industrial progress.

His mobility is so enhanced by motoriza- tion that he runs the risk of complete dislocation. Dependent on complex technology, and tied to global movements having their own universalistic aspira- tions e. Why is this trend so threatening to the identity of the partisan? It renders him indistinguishable from his foes, whose universalis- tic aspirations he increasingly mirrors: both American liberals and their revolu- tionary guerrilla opponents claim to speak in the name of a mythical unified humanity.

Even though postwar guerrilla move- ments initially provide some reason to hope that an authentic mode of politics is alive and well, his study ends on a cautious note, strongly suggesting that the most sophisticated mode of guerrilla warfare in modern times was found among the telluric peasants of early nineteenth century counterrevolutionary Spain, but hardly among the revolutionary movements of s Southeast Asia or Latin and South America.

Though both phenomena, in contrast to common criminality, are intensely political in character, terrorism and guerrilla warfare rely on distinct organ- izational modes.

In empirical reality, the two forms of hostility sometimes appear to merge, yet fundamental differences remain. Guerrilla fighters refigure the tra- ditional distinction between combatants and non-combatants without abandoning the distinction altogether, 10 whereas terrorism discards the distinction and con- dones indiscriminate violence against innocent civilians. Only terrorists, in short, directly reproduce the worst excesses of modern total war.

In order to succeed, guerrilla or partisan warfare also relies on the political support or at least complicity of the general populace and works hard to build this support, while terrorists wage war in the name of an imagined party e. Especially important in the contemporary context is that terrorism may serve as a Constellations Volume 13, No 1, Scheuerman precursor to a broader and politically more explosive partisan or guerrilla war.

In the Algerian civil war, for example, isolated terrorist attacks undertaken by a small number of FLN fighters were successfully relayed into a broader partisan war which succeeded in driving the French from Algeria. On the one hand, we find backwards-looking partisans who fight in the name of tradition, 15 seek the reestablishment of customary law, and wage a defensive battle against modernizing political and social forces. They best correspond to the telluric quality of partisan warfare described by Schmitt.

For them, the political foe is an absolute enemy whose physical elimination is justified: they understand themselves as the only true representatives of authentic customs and traditions which their political enemies are simply unable to express or share. On the other hand, guerrilla movements, typically of the left, promise a utopian future, wage an offensive battle e. In part because par- tisans of this type ultimately want to convince political opponents of the justice of their cause and bring them over to their side, they shy away from indiscriminate violence.

Although matters are obviously in flux, large swaths of Iraqi territory apparently remain outside the effective control of Constellations Volume 13, No 1, The fact that polls con- sistently show substantial support for the insurgency and its battle to rid Iraq of the US invaders should hardly surprise us: as we know from the annals of modern guerrilla warfare, popular support and complicity is indispensable if alternative networks of political authority are to emerge.

That decision has now helped generate what we can legitimately describe as a guerrilla or partisan war which depends on sig- nificant sympathy from segments of the Iraqi population.

The insurgency brings together a motley collection of former Baathists, radical Islamists, and Al Qaeda fighters, now united by their profound hostility to the American crusaders. Most likely, the downward spiral of terror and counter-terror in Iraq, as Schmitt would have prophesied, has played a significant role, as US forces respond to suicide bombings and indiscriminate acts of insurgent violence by themselves killing and abusing civilians.

This spiral, of course, has worked to fan the flames of burgeoning anti-Americanism — in other words, precisely what Al Qaeda needs in order to thrive. Do irregular fighters deserve the Constellations Volume 13, No 1, Scheuerman protections of the Geneva Convention, or is their fate best left in the hands of the discretionary authority of those who capture them? He correctly notes that international law has struggled with the problem of how to regulate irregular combatants.

Writing in , Schmitt accurately observes that partisan and guerrilla fighters had come to enjoy greater legal protections than in the past, though they still lacked the full rights of the regular combatant 15— Such fighters are still required to carry their arms openly during military deployment or an attack, but the clear thrust of Protocol I is to place guerrillas under the same legal rubric as traditional military forces.


Carl Schmitt and the Road to Abu Ghraib



Carl Schmitt


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